Editing Your Self Published Book: A Checklist

So, you finished that book you’ve been working on forever? But, did you edit it?

While Kindle and Createspace, along with other self-publishing options, have given indie authors a bit more respectability (in that they don’t have to hide their status in shame), that doesn’t mean you can overlook the importance of editing.

If you want to compete with established writers, do everything you can to make your book look like a “real book.”

Under the best circumstances, you should hire a professional to edit your work. First, you should seek an editor to read your story, to help with the big picture stuff such as structure and how well the story works. Once you have a story that works, you’ll need a copy editor, someone to fix the typos, grammar, and the little (but very important) things.

Here’s some basic tips from the obvious (like check your spelling) to the not-so-obvious (formatting) that I’ve learned along the way editing our books at Collective Inkwell. It’s not a complete list as different books (such as children’s books) require different procedures, but this is a good starting list for most writers. If you have any tips to add, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll update this post as necessary.

Check for typos. It’s easy to miss typos, especially when spellchecker doesn’t catch it. Your spellchecker doesn’t know if you meant lose or loose, but your readers will notice if you get it wrong. Trust me, I’ve gotten that email pointing out something I should have caught. And while getting that email makes you feel like a big dummy, I always appreciate the readers’ help. It’s all too easy to miss stuff when you’re editing something over and over and over, and sometimes adding new stuff on the sixth edit.

Check name spellings. Are your proper names consistent? This can be especially troublesome if you use uncommon names or spell them differently. For instance, I have a character named Mike Mathews in our upcoming vampire thriller, Available Darkness, but in the first edit, I had his name spelled two different ways, with both one and two T’s. Woops, no that’s not a different Mike Mathews.

Check timelines. Does your story flow well? Did you have a character in California at 10 p.m. and somehow, impossibly, have him in New York an hour later? It’s easy to get timelines mixed up, especially as you change details as the book progresses. Unless he’s using supernatural means, fix it!

Check specifics. Attention to details makes your world come alive for a reader, while errors will ruin the illusion. Was a character bald in Chapter One, yet someone grabs him by the hair in chapter 12? You might be writing the two chapters months apart and may have forgotten some details, but readers will spot such inconsistencies quickly as they plow through your book in a few days. Pay attention to details such as names, relatives, friends, locales, character traits, history, pets, language, and things they own. Keep character sheets and make sure you read your book again from beginning to end to catch any errors.

Check formatting. Are headlines consistent? If you are using bold type and center justifying your headlines, make sure all your headlines are the same. (I made this mistake on one of our books and will correct it in the next edition). Is your page size the same as the final product (for print books)? Are your margins correct? Amazon’s CreateSpace forum has a thread on margin interiors.

Make sure your font size and types are also consistent. If you use Georgia 11 pt. for Chapter One, don’t use Times New Roman for Chapter Two unless there’s a specific reason to do so. Most eReaders ignore which font you use altogether, so this one applies more for your print version.

Are your headers and footers consistent? You have a few choices here. I usually go with Author name on the left and book name on the right pages. For reference books, I’ll substitute chapter titles for author name. Your footers should have page numbers on the outside or in the middle. Don’t make the mistake of putting them on the inside. Again, this is only for print books, not eReaders.

Is your book configured correctly? Another print only item – Does your first page begin on the right hand side? It, and new chapters, should start on the right side, though subsequent chapters don’t necessarily need to follow this rule. Many word editing programs feature “first page is different” and “left and right pages are different” which should probably be checked off (depending on your project). Title page, dedication, and the table of contents (if you have one) usually start on the right page, while copyright info and “other books by the author” are typically on the left side.

Did you quote songs or books without permission? It’s pretty cool when authors quote lyrics from songs, right? And maybe you thought you’d do the same to show off your awesome musical knowledge/taste. Just one thing – chances are good that the author had to get permission to use those lyrics. And that permission usually includes paying a fee. If the work you’re quoting has a copyright, either get permission (which can take a while to secure) or delete it.

Check your cover for any typos. I don’t know what it is about working in Photoshop, but I seem four times more likely to make a typo when using it. Since your cover is the first thing (and could be the last thing) your readers see, pay extra attention to getting it right.

Let it go. There will almost always be errors. At some point, after several edits, you need to just put the book out there and hope your story is awesome enough to overcome what few errors are left. In most cases, readers are a forgiving bunch. But don’t test their patience. Aim for producing the best book you can create. You can always revise later if you find enough errors (or enough readers email you on them).

What editing tips would you add to this checklist? Leave a comment below and share.


2 responses to Editing Your Self Published Book: A Checklist

  1. Judith Briles

    These are good editing tips. To add – as much as possible cut and do not add. Instead of adding more fancy words and elaboration to your book, cut those unnecessary phrases or sentences. But be careful that even if you cut something, what is left still has sense.

  2. Matt Roberts

    I am constantly surprised by the amount of typos I have missed when someone gives me my feedback. It’s rather embarrassing, but after a while your eyes just don’t see them. It’s reassuring when some work I’ve been asked to look at has just as many!

    That’s a great list though – it pays to pay attention to the little things we take for granted, like margin sizes and what goes on which page. I will certainly be coming back here when my book is ready.

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